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Aunt Joan wants us to talk about Native Americans. So we did. It's not good, but at least our sports teams have dumber names now.
It's another Reader's Request lesson, this time from Aunt Joan, a long-time reader from across the Chesapeake Bay; she wants to know:
Could you give us some historical facts about the Indigenous population in the United States? Many facts need to be highlighted that most U.S. citizens are probably not aware of. Talk about being trampled underfoot. Holy Cow!
Holy Cow indeed, Aunt Joan!
Aunt Joan sent this question along over the summer after reading an opinion article from Interior Secretary Deb Haaland, who painted a bleak picture of her ancestors and their lives as Native Americans living in the United States.
Me & Aunt Joan
Aunt Joan and I share a lot in common. We are both Catholics. We both loved Uncle Mike (may he rest in peace) and enjoy activities, like eating pie. We also are lifetime fans of professional sports teams who recently changed their nicknames from offensive references of Native Americans to slightly more confusing, albeit less, racist ones.
Nevertheless, I see this as progress, just as Secretary Haaland became the first Native American to be confirmed to a Cabinet Secretary position in 2021.
Let's stop for a second and let that fact sink in.
Opportunity Is Not Knocking
The United States was birthed by blood – eradicating Indigenous people and the subjection of enslaved people brought from Africa. We are like what, 200 and some odd years old? There have been anywhere from 5 to 15 cabinet positions, which, if my math is correct, means there have been a lot of freaking cabinet positions that we passed over the descendants whose land we took. It's only now we added someone to the leadership group.
Embarrassing is not a strong enough word.
Hail to Old DC!
This past Wednesday, the Washington Football Team of the National Football League announced its new nickname, the Commanders. The culmination of an 18-month process saw the team finally turn away from the name Redskins and move beyond its association with a racist term. It's probably not lost on you that many Commanders wiped out a lot of Indians in our history. Sherman, Jackson, Harrison, Scott, and Taylor are a few well-known Commanders, and hey, some of those guys became presidents. How about that.
Did anyone over the last 18 months at the Washington Football Team headquarters ask the question of whether it would be a good idea to name the team the exact opposite of the original? The Military-Industrial Complex didn't begin with the creation of Boeing.
The Washington Redskins were established in 1932 in Boston for those of you who don't know. Five years later they moved to Washington, DC, a district created to appease southern enslavers and balance out the money from the north, specifically Wall Street, who was more than happy to oblige.
Besides being called the Redskins, they have other unique distinctions.
The Redskins were the last football team to integrate in 1962. Because it took so long, D.C. has become the second biggest fanbase for the Dallas Cowboys, who integrated waaaaay before. It's common to run into die-hard Cowboy fans who have never been to Dallas and HATE Washington. It's fun. Also, you name a team after Native Americans and don't allow black people, well, the Redskins were actually America's Team.
Growing up in Cleveland, I was born into a family that loved the Cleveland Indians baseball club. Established in 1901, The Indians have been more of a punchline than a winning franchise. In 1947, Bill Veek, who owned the club, introduced a caricature of an American Indian and named him Chief Wahoo. The Chief had a long nose, beady eyes, short hair, and everyone here gets the picture. Chief became the symbol of losing.
It would be another 70 years before the club officially removed the racist imagery as its official brand. In 2021, the Indians became the Guardians because statues around the stadium guard the traffic or something. I'm at least glad for the name change so we can stop hearing the silly bugle charge at games.
Da danna na ni na! CHARGE!
I never understood that. Guys, we are the Indians; the Bugle Rally is from the U.S. Cavalry – led by Commanders – who will fight and eventually beat the Indians. This does not inspire me to hope Victor Martinez gets a hit.
Where was I? Oh yes, Aunt Joan would like some facts:
As Secretary Haaland points out, our history with Indigenous people is not good.
· An estimated 5 to 15 million Indigenous people lived in commonly known United States territory in 1492 when Columbus came over.
· The United States government authorized over 1,500 wars, raids, and other deadly acts of violence, the most of any country against an Indigenous people in the history of the world.
· By the time Sherman, Jackson, Harrison, Scott, Taylor, and other Commanders were finished, only around 238,000 Indigenous people remained.
· Today there are 574 recognized tribes in the United States and roughly just under 3 million people.
· The third leading cause of death among Native Americans is chronic liver disease. The leading cause of chronic liver disease is cirrhosis, and one of the leading causes of cirrhosis is alcohol abuse.
· The median income for American Indians is $40,315. Whites' median income is $66,993.
· In 2006, 39% of American Indians under five lived in poverty.
I can't sit here in 2022 and say as a country, we needed to avoid violent conflict with Natives to build a nation that centuries later, I enjoy numerous privileges. I'm obnoxious, but not that obnoxious.
Saying that here are some actions we could have avoided:
1. The Trail of Tears.
2. We could not have destroyed and massacred people in multi-tribe villages such as Prophetstown in Indiana and Hightower in Georgia.
3. Stop breaking treaties like in1876 when gold was discovered in the Black Hills. The U.S. demanded land back, which led to the Battle of Little Bighorn – a rare defeat for the Americans, who George Custer commanded.
Look, I could go on and on and on.
Changing the names of our sports teams is literally the least we can do, and I have zero ideas what we could do as individuals to improve the lives of our Indigenous brothers and sisters. But I hope this tiny bit of information is helpful, timed with billion-dollar industries moving away from identifying themselves with racism, while we finally place a daughter of Native Americans into a position of influence.
Our past is constantly connected to our present. How we take in that information, understand it and act upon it will determine the course of our future. I'd welcome any ideas below.
You first, Aunt Joan.